White captains in the Winston-Salem Fire Department have expressed hostility, derision and fear in response to summer protests against police brutality and racism, according to a grievance filed with the city by the Black firefighters group known as Omnibus.
The grievance centers on comments made by one captain during a training, and by three others in social media exchanges with fellow firefighters and individuals in the wider community. The grievance calls for the termination of Chief William “Trey” Mayo, accusing him of failing to take action on “violent and threatening” statements by the captains.
The Black firefighters report in the grievance that Christopher Belcher, a training captain, stated in the presence of other firefighters that he would run over protesters on the way home from work. The grievance states that Belcher presented a PowerPoint presentation on “safe and respectful interactions with protesters.” Triad City Beat has previously reported on the accusation. Belcher could not be reached for this story.
TCB received a copy of the grievance on Sunday evening from an email account set up by Omnibus. The group did not respond to requests for comment. City Manager Lee Garrity said the city received the grievance, and “will be processing it in accordance with the grievance policy approved by city council and adopted in our Personnel Resolution.” The city’s grievance policy states that the employee should bring their concern to their immediate supervisor, or, with “justifiable cause,” with the person in “the next higher level of supervision.” The policy allows employees to appeal grievances up to the city manager.
Implied and overt threats of violence against protesters blocking roadways come up as a recurring theme in social media posts by two other fire captains cited in the grievance.
In one Facebook thread, Capt. Edward Blair appears to recommend an AR-15 pistol for responding to situations involving protesters blocking roadways. Blair’s comment appears in a thread in response to a photo depicting protesters in Greensboro blocking an interstate in June. The original poster wrote: “This is the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area. How many of us travel on 40/52? Please consider getting your concealed carry [permit] and some handgun training. No one usually intends to get in harm’s way, but it happens. Please have the forethought to be trained to protect yourself and your family. Let me know if you need a class. I can travel, do private classes, your social group, or whatever your needs are.”
The thread includes a comment from a Facebook user identified as “Scott Blair” advising: “The ‘saint’ is a good platform for such situations.” The Facebook profile includes a photo showing the user wearing a Winston-Salem fire uniform; there’s only one person with the name Blair listed in the Winston-Salem employee directory, indicating it’s the same person. “Saint” appears to reference the Saint series of AR-15 pistols made by Springfield Armory.
In reply to his initial comment, Blair writes, “Compact… easily concealed and deployed… can do over and under work… rails are good for attachments of your choosing… muzzle break with 50% recoil turn down. Great system. Oops — I’m talking like a ‘2nd amendment’ dude.”
The protests against police brutality and racism in Winston-Salem have been uniformly peaceful.
Another Facebook screengrab shared by “Scott Blair” on the “friends” setting and included as evidence in the Omnibus grievance includes a photo of three handguns accompanied by the text, “Heading down to Charlotte this evening… I’m bringing my own silverware.”
The Omnibus grievance accuses Blair of displaying “blatant hatred and threats of violence,” which they say have been ignored by city officials, including Chief Mayo.
In another Facebook post, Blair weaves together disdain for calls to abolish the police with his negative view of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders imposing restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus.
“So, for all you idiots who voted for Cooper… I hope you enjoy going to the ABC store and watching YouTube for a while longer,” Blair writes. “Absolutely the dumbest bunch of people live in this state. This entire country has fallen apart. This is testimony to just how weak, scared and brainwashed this country has become. Dismantle the police? Cool. Let’s try that and see what happens… just for 48 hours. Protesters by the thousands in the streets, but let’s not go see a band. I don’t wear a mask. I don’t play by stupid rules. I don’t stay home and I damn sure am no sheep. If you are against the president, unfriend me. Kick rocks and kiss my rear end.”
Blair could not be reached for comment for this story.
Another Winston-Salem fire captain, Kelly Black Jernigan, re-shared a video depicting police using German Shepherd dogs for crowd control. The video originally shared by the Educating Liberal Democrats account on July 11 shows a flying wedge of officers moving through a hole in a line of riot police and chasing protesters with leashed dogs. During the 1963 Birmingham campaign led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor deployed firehoses and police dogs on protesters. An iconic photo of a 15-year-old Black boy being set upon by a snarling German Shepherd held by a police officer helped galvanize American public opinion in support of the movement against legal apartheid in the US South.
The Educating Liberal Democrats post advises, “This technique is 10 times more effective at dispersing rioters than teargas or pepper spray. Also, it plays better in the news. Wait for it!” The post continues, “If anyone doubts that German Shepherd dogs are effective, just watch ’til the end.”
Re-sharing the post, Jernigan enthused, “That’s what I’m talking about! Turn them loose!”
In another post referencing a June 22 march in which Black Lives Matter protesters took over University Parkway, Jernigan said she thought it was “funny” that another user told a mother and daughter who participated in the protest that they were “losers.”
Reacting to a video of protesters burning a flag, Jernigan wrote in another post: “F&$k these people and everyone who backs them. How’s the BLM movement now?” And in response to a news story about Jacob Blake, the Black man in Kenosha, Wis. who was paralyzed as a result of being shot in the back by police officers, Jernigan brought up Blake’s criminal record and asked, “How many people on here saying he shouldn’t have been shot have also posted about save the children? Think about that!”
“Save the children” is a slogan associated with a series of rallies across the United States beginning in late July that are linked to the QAnon, an online conspiracy community that promotes the idea of President Trump as a savior in a crusade against a global pedophilia cabal. While pedophilia and human trafficking is a real phenomenon, the tenets of QAnon are largely false and baseless.
Jernigan’s solidarity with law enforcement extends beyond social media. In 2017, she opened Kelly Days, a private bar for firefighters, police officers, dispatchers, EMTs and members of the military. Accessible only to members with a secret code, Kelly Days opened on North Main Street, below Camel City BBQ Factory. Jernigan described it to WXII Channel 12 as a “private-type bar where any first responder can come in and they’re not going to worry about seeing someone they’ve dealt with in the past on the scene.”
It’s not clear whether the bar remains open; a message to the business email bounced back. But the bar website includes several references that reinforce an us-vs.-them stance, advising firefighters and other first responders that they can bring guests “only if they support our members.”
The website warns, “Do not proceed if you do not possess a twisted sense of humor. Kelly Days is not responsible for lightweights getting their feelings hurt.”
But the same tolerance for expression is not extended to criticism of first responders. Another space on the website displays a symbol patterned after the American flag with different colored stripes substituted to represent various first responder groups, accompanied by the text, “If you have a problem with my family, there’s the door… unfriend me on the way out.”
Jernigan could not be reached for this story.
Omnibus’ grievance also cites a Facebook comment by Capt. Kevin Shore that appears to take issue with people calling for the removal of Confederate symbols. The Confederacy waged a war of rebellion against the United States and sought to preserve slavery in the Southern states. TCB has previously reported on the comment.
“With this logic, I guess anyone with the name Dixie is racist?” Shore wrote. “Trying to rewrite history will not change it. And those wanting change should do some research on the topic — what they will find will change how they view it. Learn from history and be better because of it, not remove or try to erase it. First riots, removal of statues, changing the names of events, there is no end to this.”
In early 2019, the city of Winston-Salem removed a Confederate monument from a prominent downtown corner, and beginning this year, the name “Dixie” was dropped from the city’s annual fall fair.
Referencing the Shore’s comment, Omnibus’ grievance accuses Shore of participating “in a conversation that was completely inappropriate, threatening and vile.”
The grievance also says Mayo was aware of an incident in which a white firefighter reportedly tied nooses during a ropes and knots class.
The grievance concludes by saying the Black firefighters expect that, once Garrity reviews the evidence, he will find cause for Mayo’s termination.
“This formal grievance is littered with facts that leave no doubt as to the classification of Chief Mayo’s action as bullying and most certainly inappropriate,” the document states. “We full well expect the approval of the termination of Chief William Mayo once these specific facts have been reviewed and substantiated in a timely fashion.”
Mayo told TCB he hadn’t seen the grievance and declined the opportunity to comment.